Noe Valley Voice February 2006

My Surprise Gift, Fangs Included

By Patrick Letellier

I got a tarantula for Christmas. It wasn't exactly the gift I was expecting, but since I've always loved insects and other critters, my partner Keith, bless his heart, bought me a giant spider, complete with hairy legs, fangs, and venom.

"Be very gentle opening this," he said, his bright eyes flashing, the brown paper bag between us on the kitchen counter. I was suddenly sure I was getting exquisite glassware, very colorful, or an Italian marble sculpture--a rutting bull perhaps, or the Pieta. Not that he'd given me anything remotely like that before. Ever.

This year he really outdid himself, I thought, wondering if the expensive French pie pan awaiting him under the tree would suffice. I eagerly opened the bag and carefully lifted out...not my glorious new Italian art, but a clear plastic container riddled with air holes. And there, crouching at the bottom, was a poisonous spider big enough to fill the palm of my hand. D'oh!

After an initial gasp and some confusion ("You got me a tarantula?"), I did what you're supposed to do when you receive a gift, no matter how bizarre. "Thanks, hon," I said with a laugh. "It's just what I wanted." He was beaming. It is, after all, quite the present.

Since re-gifting was clearly out of the question, tempting as that was, my eight-legged critter was soon perched in her mini-terrarium on the mantle in the living room for all to see and "enjoy." Her starter kit came with desert soil, fake tree bark to crawl on, and peat moss that you soak with water to keep her environment moist and humid--a happy little spider spa where she can bask, sleep, and eat crickets for the next 20 years.

I say "she," but we're guessing on gender because, hey, I ain't liftin' up her hood to check the engine. And no one asks. It's not like when you get a new puppy or kitten and right away people ask if it's a boy or a girl. Instead, all the questions about my "itsy-bitsy spider," as I affectionately refer to her, are about her cage. Friends politely peer in, then rather quickly back away. "Can that get out?" one asked, deadly serious. "Can't she slide the screen off the top of the cage and climb out?" She's a spider, I explain, not a raccoon.

I wasn't enamored with her at first, either, but after a couple days she won me over. She's beautiful, in a Lily Munster kind of way, and moves with a delicate, otherworldly grace. Since she's slightly reddish--she's a Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula--we named her Magenta, which, I like to think, has a Drag Queen Meets Dracula ring to it that suits her perfectly. But then we watched the film Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and now we've taken to calling her Tarangelina Jolie, or Brad Bit. We also considered naming her Barbara (who'd expect that?), Lestat (Anne Rice's fanged villain), and RoseMhairy's Baby (well, for obvious reasons). Keith, inexplicably, also calls her Gidget.

"What does this say about your relationship?" asked Nello, my gay, 82-year-old neighbor, when I told him about the gift. "Keith bought you a poisonous animal that bites," he said, arching one eyebrow theatrically. "Darling, it can't be good!"

"She was the least poisonous kind the pet store had," Keith told me later, his face a mask of brightness--as if he were conveying some welcome, happy news. "Her bite feels like a bee sting but won't send you to the hospital." Well now, that's reassuring.

It's actually a sweet gift. I had wanted a praying mantis, the voracious and sleek supermodels of the insect world, but thanks to convoluted laws in California it's easier to get plutonium from the Iranians than it is to buy a mantis for a pet.

So instead I have a tarantula.

One of my resolutions for 2006 is to be open to good things coming my way, in expected and unexpected forms. Magenta is the latter. In fact, she's way the latter.

Patrick Letellier makes his living writing about gay culture and politics. He and his partner, Keith Hodge (who worked for many years as a bather at VIP Grooming on 24th Street), have lived on Liberty Street for two years. To check out Letellier's rants on lesbian fruit flies and other compelling topics, visit